Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

by Charlotte Force

Author: Daniel Handler a.k.a. Lemony Snicket 

Illustrator: Maira Kalman

Rating: 8/10

Genre: YA, Realistic Fiction, Epistolary Novel

"I was stupid, the official descriptive phrase for happy."

If you look at any broken relationship with perspective, at least a facet of it is funny:

‘Why did we dance on that table?”,

‘Why did we even get together?,

and ‘God I hated his hair gel!”,

are a few examples of things, which with hugs, rebounds, and dollops of time, seem comedic – but in the aftermath of a bad breakup, nothing in the world is funny. Everything is fit for a Greek tragedy. That however, does not make for light, or necessarily pleasant, reading. That is where Daniel Handler’s wit comes into play, and makes this novel a success: despite the often dramatic, heart-wrenching, or awkward nature of high school romance and heartbreak, Min’s voice resonates in a witty, dry way, which spins the heavy subject matter in a palatable light.

The very title of this book ‘spoils’ the ending: Min and Ed break up. To be honest, it’s to be expected. They’re young – in high school, and very, very different people. Min is an “arty” film-expert, fluently versed in the fictional silver-screen world that Handler created for the book. Ed is the typical leather jacket-sporting, bonfire-frequenting, shot-drinking jock. Yet, as in every relationship or book: you don’t want them to break up.

Why We Broke Up is a lengthy letter from Min to Ed, the ex-boyfriend. It’s written, as Min says, with a pen running out of ink, in a coffee shop, next to her best-friend Al. Along with the letter comes a box of memorabilia from the Relationship: rose petals, movie tickets, bottle caps, a match box, a salt shaker… et cetera (which accompany the letter through illustrations by Maira Kalman). Min’s got an “Ed Box”, and she’s giving it back (or more aptly put, flunking it at Ed’s doorstep from Al’s car).

Through the Ed Box, Min recounts the “How We Met” to the “First Date” to the “First Kiss” to the to the “First Time”… but also narrates the “First Fight” to the “When We Should Have Broken Up” to, of course, the “Why We Broke Up”.

It’s a relationship like any other, and like no other, and that’s what makes it so believable, and thus relatable. If you’re going through a break-up, have ever gone through a break-up, or one day, maybe, will go through a break-up, you should probably read this. It’s honest, witty, gorgeous, and brilliantly executed – complete with almost-real characters, and how it feels to be the youngest couple in a swanky jazz club.